Author Archive

Runs and Wins

The National Pastime, debut number, 1982

The National Pastime debut, 1982

Two years before Pete Palmer and I published The Hidden Game of Baseball, I created a new journal for the Society for American Baseball Research (SABR) called The National Pastime and invited Pete to write for its first issue. His article, “Runs and Wins,” proved a cornerstone for The Hidden Game and for sabermetrics as a whole. Just last week, Paul Hagen wrote an article at [] in which he stated that run differential “is a stat that has been around for years. And it is so simple and logical that at first glance, it hardly seems worth mentioning. And yet, run differential–the gap between how many runs a team scores and how many it gives up–has become more prominent than ever in recent years.” Below is an example of Palmer’s genius when sabermetrics was new. In The National Pastime he was surrounded by such baseball luminaries as Larry Ritter, Dr. Harold Seymour, G.H. Fleming, Bob Broeg, John B. Holway, Mark Rucker, and David Voigt, among others. The publication was big hit, selling out quickly. It has been unavailable for decades, except in the antiquarian book trade–until this fall, when SABR will reissue it as an ebook, free to SABR members as all its electronic publications are. Thirty-two years after its debut, and 25 years after I passed the baton as its editor, The National Pastime is still published annually. The Hidden Game will be reissued in Spring 2015 from the University of Chicago Press, with a new introduction by its authors and a foreword by Keith Law.

Runs and Wins

Pete Palmer

Most statistical analyses of baseball have been concerned with evaluating offensive performance, with pitching and fielding coming in for less attention. An important area that has been little studied is the relationship of runs scored and allowed to wins and losses: how many games a team ought to have won, how many it did win, and which teams’ actual won-lost records varied far from their probable won-lost records.

The initial published attempt on this subject was Earnshaw Cook’s Percentage Baseball, in 1964. Examining major-league results from 1950 through 1960 he found winning percentage equal to .484 times runs scored divided by runs allowed. (Example: in 1965 the American League champion Minnesota Twins scored 774 runs and allowed 600; 774 times .484 divided by 600 yields an expected winning percentage of .630. The Twins in fact finished at 102-60, a winning percentage of .624. Had they lost one of the games they won, their percentage would have been .623.)

Arnold Soolman, in an unpublished paper which received some media attention, looked at results from 1901 through 1970 and came up with winning percentage equal to .102 times runs scored per game minus .103 times runs allowed per game plus .505. (Using the ’65 Twins, Soolman’s method produces an expected won-lost percentage of .611.) Bill James, in his Baseball Abstract, developed winning percentage equal to runs scored raised to the power x, divided by the sum of runs scored and runs allowed each raised to the power x. Originally, x was equal to two but then better results were obtained when a value of 1.83 was used. (James’ original method shows the ’65 Twins at .625, his improved method at .614.)

Percentage Baseball, Earnshaw Cook

Percentage Baseball, Earnshaw Cook

My work showed that as a rough rule of thumb, each additional ten runs scored (or ten less runs allowed) produced one extra win, essentially the same as the Soolman study. However, breaking the teams into groups showed that high-scoring teams needed more runs to produce a win. This runs-per-win factor I determined to be equal to ten times the square root of the average number of runs scored per inning by both teams. Thus in normal play, when 4.5 runs per game are scored by each club, the factor comes out equal to ten on the button. (When 4.5 runs are scored by each club, each team scores .5 runs per inning–totaling one run, the square root of which is one, times ten.) In any given year, the value is usually in the nine to eleven range. James handled this situation by adjusting his exponent x to be equal to two minus one over the quantity of runs scored plus runs allowed per game minus three. Thus with 4.5 runs per game, x equals two minus one over the quantity nine minus three: two minus one-sixth equals 1.83.

Based on results from 1900 through 1981, my method or Bill’s (the refined model taking into account runs per game) work equally well, giving an average error of 2.75 wins per team. Using Soolman’s method, or a constant ten runs per win, results in an error about 4 percent higher, while Cook’s method is about 20 percent worse.

Probability theory defines standard deviation as the square root of the sum of the squares of the deviations divided by the number of samples. Average error is usually two-thirds of the standard deviation. If the distribution is normal, then two-thirds of all the deviations will be less than one standard deviation, one in twenty will be more than two away, and one in four hundred will be more than three away. If these conditions are met, then the variation is considered due to chance alone.

Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1982

Bill James Baseball Abstract, 1982

From 1900 through 1981 there were 1448 team seasons. Using the square root of runs per inning method, one standard deviation (or sigma) was 26 percentage points. Seventy teams were more than 52 points (two sigmas) away and only two were more than 78 points (three sigmas) off. The expected numbers here were 72 two-sigma team seasons and 4 three-sigma team seasons, so there is no reason to doubt that the distribution is normal and that differences are basically due to chance.

Still, it is interesting to look at the individual teams that had the largest differences in actual and expected won-lost percentage and try to figure out why they did not achieve normal results. By far the most unusual situation occurred in the American League in 1905. Here two teams had virtually identical figures for runs scored and allowed, yet one finished 25 games ahead of the other! It turns out that with one exception, these two teams had the largest differences in each direction in the entire period. Detroit that season scored 512 runs and allowed 602. The Tigers’ expected winning percentage was .435, but they actually had a 79-74 mark, worth a percentage of .517. St. Louis, on the other hand, had run data of 511-608 and an expected percentage of .430, yet went 54-99, a .353 percentage.

Looking at game scores, the difference can be traced to the performance in close contests. Detroit was 32-17 in one-run games and 13-10 in those decided by two runs. St. Louis had marks of 17 -34 and 10-25 in these categories. Detroit still finished 15 games out in third place, while St. Louis was dead last. Ty Cobb made his debut with the Tigers that year, but did little to help the team, batting .240 in 41 games.

The only team to have a larger difference between expected and actual percentage in either direction than these two teams was in the strike-shortened season last year [1981], when Cincinnati finished a record 88 points higher than expected. Their 23-10 record in one-run games was the major factor. The 1955 Kansas City Athletics, who played 76 points better than expected, had an incredible 30-15 mark in one-run games, while going 33-76 otherwise.

Listed below are all the teams with differences of 70 or more points.

Runs and Wins, Table 2

Runs and Wins, Table 1

The 1924 National League season affords an interesting contrast which is evident in the chart. St. Louis failed of its expected won-lost percentage by 72 points while Brooklyn exceeded its predicted won-lost mark by 70.

The two poor showings by the Pittsburgh club in 1911 and 1917 were part of an eight-year string ending in 1918 in which the Pirates played an average of 37 points below expectations, a difference of about six wins per year. This was the worst record over a long stretch in modern major-league history. Cincinnati was 40 points under in a shorter span, covering 1902 through 1907. No American League team ever played worse than 25 points below expectation over a period of six or more years.

On the plus side, the best mark is held by the current Baltimore Orioles under Earl Weaver. From 1976 through 1981 they have averaged 41 points better than expected. The best National League mark was achieved by the Brooklyn and Los Angeles Dodgers in 1954–63, 27 points higher than expectations over a ten-year period, or about four wins per year.

The three-sigma limit for ten-year performance is 25 points. The number of clubs which exceeded this limit over such a period is not more than would be expected by chance. So it would seem that the teams were just lucky or unlucky, and that there are no other reasons for their departure from expected performance.

Below are the actual results and differences for the four teams covered.

Runs and Wins, Table 2

Runs and Wins, Table 2

Phantom Ballplayers

Cliff Kachline

Cliff Kachline

While at the recent All-Star Game in Minneapolis I had the pleasure of meeting and hanging out with Ron Roth, longtime official scorer of the Cincinnati Reds. Swapping stories in the hotel lobby I recalled a couple that seemed particularly apt for a man of his calling. There was the one that Fred Lieb used to tell about how Ty Cobb achieved his third and final .400 batting average via an overturned call (read, if you have not already, his wonderful book, Baseball as I Have Known It: And I recalled the story of “Proctor,” a Western Union telegrapher who inserted his own name into a 1912 box score and for eighty years thereafter was immortalized in the baseball encyclopedias. The man who told me that tale was Cliff Kachline, historian at the Baseball Hall of Fame and afterward executive director of the Society for American Baseball Research. Upon my return home I dug up the fascinating article on baseball’s phantoms, as they came to be called, that Cliff contributed to the first edition of Total Baseball in 1989 and was included in several subsequent editions. Here it is, through the 1993 season. It is a model of baseball research.

Phantom Ballplayers

Clifford S. Kachline

Garbage in, garbage out is an expression that gained currency with the advent of the computer age. The logic behind the catch phrase, however, prevailed long before the electronic marvels came into being. Baseball, in fact, has had its own version of the maxim almost since the game’s earliest days, largely as a consequence of record keepers who sometimes unwittingly entered erroneous data into the record books.

Numerous examples of the garbage in, garbage out principle have been discovered in baseball’s statistical archives through the years. But statistics aren’t the only area where the phenomenon has shown up. Another involves what researchers of the sport refer to as “phantoms”–players credited with having performed in the major leagues but who in reality never did appear in a big league game.

Phantoms are hardly a recent phenomenon. They have existed almost as long as box scores have been published. Some were the product of misunderstandings by–or misinformation given to–official scorers or the parties who compiled the boxscores. A few of these crept into the leagues’ official records. Others were created by mistakes on the part of telegraph operators or by typographical errors and appeared only in newspaper boxscores.

Little if any attention was paid to the situation until the 1950s. The original edition of The Official Encyclopedia of Baseball, published by A.S. Barnes and Co. in 1951, provided fans for the first time with a supposedly complete alphabetical tabulation of every man who ever played in the majors, together with his basic yearly big league stats. The publication stimulated the interest of the sport’s researchers. When editors Hy Turkin and S.C. Thompson deleted the names of some players–most of whom were previously shown as having a one-game career–from subsequent revised editions, the matter of phantoms started to become a source of fascination.

Who really were the “impostors” that were listed in earlier editions? What had prompted the editors to include them in the first place? And what evidence had been found to prove conclusively that they never played in the big leagues?

The introduction of The Baseball Encyclopedia by the Macmillan Publishing Company in 1969 focused additional attention on the subject. In compiling data for that publication, David Neft and his crew of Information Concepts, Inc. researchers continued the process of purging phantoms from the records. Since then, further investigation by Neft, Pete Palmer, Bill Haber, Al Kermisch, and others has led to the expunging of several more players.

In many instances confirming the status of a phantom was a complicated chore. The task sometimes was made more difficult because the player’s name was included in the official league statistics. In other cases, especially those involving nineteenth-century performers, the fact that official league records no longer exist compounded the problem because it made it impossible to determine who was credited by the official scorer and/or league statistician with appearing in the game or games in question. (The American League’s official game-by-game player sheets of 1901-1904 reportedly were destroyed by fire decades ago, while the official National League data also vanished for the pre-1902 period except for the 1899 season.)

An example of a phantom who appears in the league records is Albert W. Olsen. For thirty-five years he was carried in the encyclopedias and shown as participating in one game–as a pinch hitter–for the Boston Red Sox in 1943. Olsen did train with the Red Sox that spring, but he was shipped to San Diego of the Pacific Coast League before opening day and spent the entire season in the minors. In addition, it was his exploits as a lefthanded pitcher, not as a hitter, that originally attracted the Red Sox.

Leon Culberson

Leon Culberson

Nevertheless, American League records list Olsen as playing for Boston in a game in Chicago on May 16, 1943. Newspaper box scores credited him with drawing a walk while batting for pitcher Dick Newsome and subsequently stealing a base. However, research has confirmed that the Red Sox pinch-hitter on that occasion definitely was not Olsen. Instead, it may have been outfielder Leon Culberson, who had just been called up from Louisville of the American Association, or possibly another Boston rookie outfielder, Johnny Lazor.

And why is there still uncertainty as to who the pinch-hitter really was? How could this mistake have occurred? First off, the exchange of roster data among major league teams during that period was quite limited. Consequently scorecards often contained the same player names and uniform numbers for the visiting team, especially early in the season, as the team listed in spring training. For example, the scorecard for a Red Sox-Senators game in Washington approximately a week before the incident in question showed Olsen on Boston’s roster with uniform number 14, even though he was pitching for San Diego. Second, it’s unlikely there were phone lines from the press box to the dugouts in those days, and in the absence of being able to call down to check on the identity of a player, the media and official scorers relied on outdated roster information.

Several years ago researchers felt they had cleared up the Olsen mystery upon discovering that one Boston newspaper identified the pinch-hitter as “Culbeson.” This seemed to settle the matter. After all, Culberson had joined the team that day and was installed as the Red Sox’ leadoff batter in the second half of the afternoon doubleheader, collecting a single and triple in five at-bats. But the mystery was revived when Ed Walton, a Red Sox historian, discussed the situation with Culberson at a Red Sox Old Timers affair in 1986. According to Walton, Culberson contended he did not pinch-hit in the twin-bill opener, but rather made his debut in the second game. He added that manager Joe Cronin said he wanted the young newcomer to sit beside him (Cronin) through the first game to get a feel of the big leagues. However, the records reveal Cronin played third base during the entire first game. All of which raises the questions: Was Culberson’s memory playing tricks on him and was he indeed the pinch-hitter listed as Olsen? Or was it Lazor, who is shown as wearing uniform number 14 later in the year but who was batting a mere .136 (3 for 22) at the time? Because the passage of time makes memories hazy and also because the incident was of no particular significance, the mystery may never be solved. [Today, more than twenty years later, the game is credited to Lazor.]

A manager’s pique led to a phantom known as J.A. Costello getting into the early encyclopedias. Curiously, the incident also took place in Chicago  and likewise involved a player’s big league debut. It occurred in the morning half of a holiday bill between Cleveland and the White Sox on July 4, 1912. Late in the contest, Indians’ Manager Harry Davis, still burning over an umpire’s decision, sent the newcomer into the game to replace center fielder Joe Birmingham and instructed him to announce himself to umpire Gene Hart as “Costello.”

In reality, the player was Kenneth Nash, who had only recently joined Cleveland from Boston University law school. He subsequently appeared in ten additional games with Cleveland that season under his correct surname, mostly as a shortstop, and then played with the St. Louis Cardinals for part of 1914. Nash later became a prominent state representative, state senator, and judge in his home state of Massachusetts.

Reddy Grey, Rochester 1901

Reddy Grey, Rochester 1901

The 1903 official National League records contain a phantom who long baffled researchers. Among the Pittsburgh player sheets is one headed “George Gray” with entries for two games as an outfielder–on May 28 and May 31. Four years earlier the Pirates had a pitcher named George “Chummy” Gray, and it’s possible the scorer or league statistician remembered him while filling in the player’s first name. When the first official encyclopedia appeared in 1951, the player was identified as William (rather than George) Gray, a native of Pittsburgh.

It turns out that the two George (or William) Gray entries properly belonged to not one, but two different players. The Pirates’ left fielder in the May 28 game really was Romer Carl “Reddy” Grey, younger brother of novelist Zane Grey. He had been obtained on loan from the Worcester club of the Eastern League to fill in that afternoon in the final game of a series in Boston.

On the other hand, while box scores in Cincinnati newspapers listed the Pittsburgh left fielder for the May 31 game in Cincinnati as “Gray,” the player actually was Ernest Diehl, a Cincinnati sandlotter who had been recruited by the injury-riddled Pirates. The game represented Diehl’s first appearance in the major leagues and his only game that season, but he played twelve more games with Pittsburgh the following year. It should be noted that ever since the original Turkin/Thompson tome, the encyclopedias have credited Diehl with playing one game with Pittsburgh in 1903, but until recent years they also carried William Gray with two games.

A majority of baseball’s phantoms were the product of typographical errors–instances where a linotypist or a typesetter mistakenly included one or more incorrect letters in a name, or where a printer inserted a correction line in the wrong place. In compiling data for the encyclopedias, the authors/researchers relied not only on the so-called official league records but also combed box scores published in The Sporting News, Sporting Life, The New York Clipper, and various local newspapers. In the process they occasionally came upon what appeared to be a previously unlisted “new” player who, in the final analysis, proved to be someone else. Even today, misspellings of this type in newspapers can cause great befuddlement.

A classic illustration of a phantom who was created by a typographical error is the player carried in the early encyclopedias as John P. Morgan. He was listed as appearing in one game as a third baseman with the Philadelphia Athletics in 1916. A study of A’s box scores for the season disclosed the source of the mix-up: It was The Sporting News‘s box score of the August 3 game at Cleveland. (Sporting Life had dropped box scores by this time.) The Philadelphia half of TSN’s box has “Morgan, 2b,” while on the same line in Cleveland’s half is “Gandil, lb.”

Careful examination reveals the Morgan/Gandil type slug was a correction line that the printer inserted in the wrong place. It was intended for the Washington-at-Cleveland box score of the previous day (August 2) in which the Senators’ second baseman, Harry Morgan, appeared on the same line as Chick Gandil and contained the identical AB-H-PO-A-E figures given for each player in the misaligned August 2 line.

This explanation may well leave you, the reader, with several questions, to wit: (1) Who did play third for the A’s that day, and was he properly credited in the official records? (2) Why did the encyclopedia compilers show Morgan as a third baseman instead of a second baseman? (3) How did they come up with “John P.” for the impostor’s name?

The answers are: (1) Lee McElwee and, yes, he was credited with this game; (2) because veteran Nap Lajoie played the entire game at his usual second base position for the A’s, the researcher who made this “discovery” apparently assumed it should have read “Morgan, 3b” rather than “2b”; (3) an infielder named John P. Morgan was active in the minor leagues that season, and the encyclopedia editors probably figured the A’s had given him a trial. Numerous other phantoms were similarly tagged with the first names of then-current minor leaguers.

Fred Carisch

Fred Carisch

Typos involving misspelled names led to a number of one-game phantoms. Two examples will serve to demonstrate the point [see table below for a full listing]. They are John H. Carlock (1912, Cleveland) and a player listed simply as Deniens (no first name given) with the 1914 Chicago Federals. Sporting Life had “Carlock, ph” for Cleveland in an August 24, 1912, game at Boston, but Cleveland newspapers and The Sporting News reported the pinch-hitter was Fred Carisch, a reserve catcher with the Indians. Official AL records also credit Carisch with that appearance. “Deniens, c” turned out to be Clem Clemens, a catcher in thirteen games with the 1914 ChiFeds. One can readily visualize how handwritten names “Carisch” and “Clemens” could have been misinterpreted by a telegrapher or linotypist for “Carlock” and “Deniens.”

The origins of some other phantoms are more mysterious. Take the case of Lou Proctor. The encyclopedias credited him with one appearance with the 1912 St. Louis Browns. The Sporting News and Sporting Life, which may have obtained their box scores from the same source, show “Proctor, ph” and “Procter, pi,” respectively, in a May 13 game at Boston. However, a Boston newspaper referred to the pinch hitter as Albert “Pete” Compton, an outfielder with the Browns that season (whose real first name was, of all things, Anna). While AL records contain no reference to Proctor, they unfortunately also fail to include the May 13 appearance among Compton’s 103 games. Rumor has it that Proctor was a prankish Western Union telegrapher who inserted his own name as a pinch hitter.

The presence on one team of two players with the same or similar surname can lead to problems. The Washington Senators figured in three such mixups. Ironically, in one instance research by Kermisch has established that a player long labeled a phantom was, in fact, “the real McCoy.” The player in question was Charles C. Conway. In 1911 the Senators had both Conway, a rookie outfielder up from Youngstown (Ohio-Pennsylvania League), and William “Wid” Conroy, veteran infielder-outfielder, on their spring roster. When the season began, Conroy was idled by a stone bruise of the foot. Meantime, Conway appeared in two games during opening week, finishing up in right field on April 15 and starting at that position three days later, before the Senators returned him to Youngstown. Unfortunately, Sporting Life and The Sporting News each showed “Conroy” as the replacement in the first contest, but both had “Conway, rf” in their April 18 box score. Although the early encyclopedias listed Conway and credited him with playing two games, the Macmillan compilers dropped his name 20 years ago [in 1969] on the erroneous premise that it was the veteran Conroy who participated in the April 15-18 games. Actually, Conroy didn’t make the first of his 106 appearances that year until April 27.

An equally confusing puzzle centered on a 1914 Washington pitcher known as Barron or Barton. The early encyclopedias carried both John J. Barron (later changed to Frank John Barron) and Carroll R. “Buck” Barton and credited each with pitching in one game for the ’14 Senators. Actually only one pitcher was involved (and just one appearance), but which pitcher was it? Player contract data of the period reveal that Washington signed Carroll R. Barton in 1913 and retained rights to him while he pitched for Newport News (Virginia League) that season and again in 1914. During the same two years John J. Barron was pitching in the New England League. To complicate matters further, Washington signed Frank J. Barron in 1914 and shipped him to Newport News, where he became a teammate of Barton. While Barron posted a dismal 1-3 record, Barton was a 16-game winner that year.

Charles C. Conway, Washington 1911

Charles C. Conway, Washington 1911

So who was the 1914 Washington pitcher? The American League player records contain an entry headed “Barron” with data for an August 18 game, and box scores of the contest likewise have “Barron” pitching one inning–the ninth–for the Senators against the visiting St. Louis Browns. The player’s correct identity was confirmed when, shortly before his death in 1964, Frank Barron disclosed in an interview that while still studying for his law degree at West Virginia University he was signed by Clark Griffith in 1914, was assigned to Newport News and later pitched one inning for Washington before resuming his law studies.

The third Washington mix-up relates to a 1944 player identified in the encyclopedias as Armando Viera Valdes. Official AL records contain a sheet for Armand (without the final “o”) Valdes and note that he made a pinch-hitting appearance for the Senators in a May 3 game at Boston, but Richard Topp’s research has disclosed that the pinch hitter was Rogelio “Roy” Valdes, a fellow Cuban but no relative of Armando. With many major leaguers lost to military service in 1944, scout Joe Cambria lined up several Cubans to fill voids on the Senators’ roster. Early in the year he signed an outfielder who was listed in the 1944 American League Red Book as Armand (without the “o”) Valdes. Several weeks thereafter–too late for inclusion in the Red Book–Cambria signed Rogelio Valdes, a catcher. Both spent the early weeks of the season with Washington (each was later optioned to Williamsport of the Eastern League), and presumably the official scorer and/or league statistician picked up the incorrect first name from the Senator roster in the AL Red Book.

As in the case of Charles Conway, another player once regarded as a phantom has turned out to be a legitimate athlete after all. The Turkin-Thompson tomes listed him as William Krouse, a second baseman in one game with Cincinnati in 1901. Compilers of the Macmillan encyclopedia decided he was an impostor and dropped him, crediting his appearance to Bill Fox, the Reds’ regular keystoner. However, research has revealed that the “Krouse, 2b” for Cincinnati in the July 27, 1901 game at Chicago was a recently released minor leaguer whose correct name was Charles “Famous” Krause. Krause, who was on his way home to Detroit at the time, was given a chance with the Reds because Fox was sidelined with a split finger, but the newcomer performed so poorly that he was dumped after that one appearance.

Recent research has revealed that one player long listed as a phantom–Ivan Bigler, who was shown in one box score at first base with the 1917 St. Louis Browns when George Sisler actually played there that day–really did make an appearance with the Browns as a pinch runner on May 6 that season, and thus he’s been restored to the all-time list of major leaguers.

The accompanying table lists the phantoms who have been eliminated from the all-time roster of major league players since the first Turkin/Thompson Official Encyclopedia of 1951. In the absence of an official clearinghouse for such data, no claim is made that the list is complete. Where it is available, brief information on the reason for the deletion of the player is given. Unfortunately, documentation by Turkin/Thompson and the ICI group that
compiled the 1969 Baseball Encyclopedia disappeared years ago.

With today’s sophisticated technology and record-keeping procedures, the margin for error in the identification of players–and in the official statistics–has been reduced considerably. Still, a slipup that occurred in the 1984 official American League averages (Alvaro Espinoza was omitted completely, even though he appeared in one game with Minnesota) emphasizes that mistakes still are possible.

A factor that poses the potential for error is the increasing frequency in recent years of teams having two or more players with an identical surname–and who often perform at the same position. In 1992 and 1993, for instance, the Los Angeles pitching staff included brothers Ramon and Pedro J. Martinez as well as Kip and Kevin Gross, who are not related. Meantime, San Diego unveiled pitcher Pedro A. Martinez in ’93. Following that season, the Dodgers swapped Pedro J. Martinez to Montreal, where he succeeded another Martinez–Dennis–on the Expos’ pitching staff when the latter signed with Cleveland as a free agent. But lo and behold, the situation was further muddied in 1994 when San Diego added a second pitching Martinez–Jose. This meant there were five Martinezes pitching in the majors at the same time, including Pedro J. with Montreal and Pedro A. with San Diego.

Besides the Dodgers, four other teams had a pair of pitchers of the same surname in 1993. They were: Houston–Todd and Doug Jones; Philadelphia–Mitch and Mike Williams; Cleveland–Matt and Curt Young; and San Diego–Gene and Greg W. Harris (not to be confused with Boston pitcher Greg A. Harris). In addition, Philadelphia also had Tommy Greene and Tyler Green on its staff at one point.

To add to the confusion, the Phillies swapped relief ace Mitch Williams to Houston after the ’93 World Series, and he teamed on the Astros’ mound corps briefly in 1994 with Brian Williams. The ’94 season also found several other teams fielding players with the identical surname who played the same position. The most confusing situation involved Baltimore. At one time or another the Orioles had three outfielders named Smith–Lonnie, Mark, and Dwight–as well as relief ace Lee Smith. An early-season Atlanta-Cincinnati trade sent Roberto Kelly to the Braves, where he joined Mike Kelly, likewise an outfielder, while Deion Sanders went to the Reds and teamed in the outfield with Reggie Sanders. Other 1993-94 teammates sharing a common surname and position included Bernie and Gerald Williams, outfielders with the New York Yankees, and infielders Edgar and Tino Martinez of Seattle, who normally man third base and first base, respectively, but on occasion in the past performed at the opposite corner.

Couple these potential mixups with the typographical errors that still show up in newspaper box scores, and you can see that the days of “garbage in, garbage out” are likely to continue.

Tabulation of Phantoms

Allen, Robert. 1919 Philadelphia AL, 9 games as OF. Pseudonym used by Alvah C. “Rowdy” Elliott, long-time minor leaguer.

Baldwin, —-. 1907 Boston NL, 1 game as C. One of James C. Ball’s 10 games.

Barton, Carroll R. 1914 Washington AL, 1 game as P. Same as game credited to Frank J. Barron.

Boylan, —-. 1887 Philadelphia NL, 1 game as 2B. One of Charles J. Bastian’s 60 games.

Carlock, John H. 1912 Cleveland AL, 1 game as PH. Typographical error; one of Frederick B. Carisch’s 25 games.

Christman, H.B. 1888 Kansas City AA, 1 game as C. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Collins, Frank. 1892 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Costello, J.A. 1912 Cleveland AL, 1 game as OF. One of 11 games played by Kenneth L. Nash, who used pseudonym in debut.

Davis, Thomas J. 1890 Cleveland NL, 1 game as OF. One of George Stacey Davis’ 136 games.

Davis, —-. 1903 Chicago NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Deniens, —-. 1914 Chicago FL, 1 game as C. Typographical error; one of Clement L. Clemens’ 13 games.

Drennan, K. John. 1904 Detroit AL, 1 game as 1B. Typographical error; one of
William “Wild Bill” Donovan’s 46 games.

Dresser, Edward. 1898 Brooklyn NL, 1 game as SS. Typographical error; one of Jack Dunn’s 51 games.

Dugan, E. 1884 Kansas City UA, 3 games as OF. Same player as William H. Dugan, who played 9 games with Richmond AA the same year.

Gray, William. 1903 Pittsburgh NL, 2 games as OF. One game belongs to Romer C. Grey; other game belongs to Ernest G. Diehl.

Kerns, Daniel P. 1920 Philadelphia AL, 1 game as PH. Pseudonym used by Edward “Ted” Kearns, later a 1B with 1924-25 Chicago NL.

King, Frederick. 1901 Milwaukee AL, 1 game as C. Game belongs to John A. Butler, later with St. Louis and Brooklyn NL, who used pseudonym in debut.

Lane, —-. 1901 Boston NL, 1 game as 3B. Typographical error; one of Bobby Lowe’s 129 games.

Mares, —-. 1894 Louisville NL, 1 games as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

McCauley, William. 1884 St. Louis AA, 1 game as C. Game belongs to James A. McCauley, who also played in 1885-1886.

Meddlebrook, —-. 1884 Baltimore UA, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Merson, —-. 1914 Brooklyn FL, 1 game as PH. Typographical error; one of George J. Anderson’s 98 games.

Miller, Bert. 1897 Philadelphia NL, 3 games as 2B. Games belong to Frank A. Miller, formerly listed as Frederick Miller, who also played one game each with Washington NL and St. Louis NL in 1892.

Miller, Henry D. 1892 Chicago NL, 4 games as P. Games belong to Harry DeMiller, who was erroneously listed for 1 game as 3B with 1892 St. Louis

Moore, Guy W. 1922 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Morgan, John P. 1916 Philadelphia AL, 1 game as 3B. Typographical error; one of Leland S. McElwee’s 54 games.

Olsen, Albert W. 1943 Boston AL, 1 game as PH. Appearance apparently belongs to either Leon Culberson or Johnny Lazor.

Pratt, Thomas J. 1884 Baltimore AA, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Proctor, Lou. 1912 St. Louis AL, 1 game as PH. Game belongs to Anna S. “Pete” Compton, who played in 103 games that season.

Ritchie, —-. 1910 St. Louis NL, 1 game as PH. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Schauer, —-. 1890 Columbus AA, 1 game as 1B. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Seymour, Thomas. 1882 Pittsburgh AA, 1 game as P. Player’s correct name was Jacob Semer.

Sheehan, Timothy. 1884 Washington UA, 1 game as OF. One of seven games belonging to player known as John A. Ryan, whose real name was Daniel Sheehan.

Smith, Charles H. “Pacer.” 1877 Chicago/Cincinnati NL, 34 games as 2B-OF-C. Record belongs to Harry W. Smith, who also played 1 game with 1889 Louisville AA.

Smith, E.J. 1890 Buffalo PL, 1 game as 1B. One of John Irwin’s 77 games.

Strands, Lewis. 1915 Chicago FL, 1 game as 2B. One of John J. Farrell’s 70 games.

Thayer, Edward L. 1876 New York NL, 1 game as 2B. Player’s correct name was George T. Fair.

Turbot, —-. 1902 St. Louis NL, 1 game as OF. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

Valdes, Armando V. 1944 Washington AL, 1 game as PH. Game belongs to a different player, Rogelio “Roy” Valdes.

Young, David. 1895 St. Louis NL, 1 game as 3B. Documentation behind deletion no longer available.

A Level Playing Field

Billy Bean

Billy Bean

I am a true believer in the power of baseball to serve as a beacon to the nation and, increasingly, the world. Our game is about equal opportunity whatever the color of one’s skin; an open door for people of differing national origin, and an understanding that everyone, whatever their gender or sexual orientation, will play by the same set of rules. How different from the customs and practices of everyday life!

Today has been a big day for baseball and for America, marking one of those times when baseball has taken a position to lead the nation rather than belatedly follow it. Commissioner Bud Selig announced the creation of a new post, that of “ambassador for inclusion,” for Billy Bean, a former major league outfielder who struggled in his career because of the strain of keeping secret the fact that he was gay. In his new position Bean will provide guidance to support those in the lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) community throughout MLB, and will help MLB personnel to deal with this community sensitively and within the structure of the  joint MLB-MLBPA Workplace Code of Conduct.

“Major League Baseball is delighted that Billy, a member of the baseball family, will advise and represent our sport on a wide range of matters,” Selig said. “As a social institution, our game has important social responsibilities. To this day, the vibrant legacy of Jackie Robinson revolves around inclusion, respect and equal opportunity. I believe that Billy will help us proactively cultivate those fundamental principles, and he will serve as a significant resource to our clubs, current and future players and many others throughout our game.”

Selig and Bean were accompanied by Lutha Burke, the sister of the late former Major League outfielder Glenn Burke, whose homosexuality was acknowledged to his teammates on the Los Anglese Dodgers and Oakland As but was not widely own outside those clubhouses.

Jews who came to this country after the Holocaust—I was one, the child of survivors—understood being singled out for unequal treatment, but in this we were by no means alone. While Jews were admitted into Major League Baseball from its inception, African Americans were, with a handful of exceptions, institutionally barred at the door. For Jews, Jackie Robinson’s debut with the Brooklyn Dodgers on April 15, 1947 served as an indicator of changing American values toward difference. Coming after the horrors of World War II, we Jews embraced Robinson, the Dodgers, and hope for a level playing field for ourselves, too.

Playing baseball, attending games, trading baseball cards, and following the records of favorite players all served as outward affirmations of faith in the idea of America as a new home. My parents never took to baseball and lived their lives as strangers in a strange land, no matter that they were grateful, patriotic Americans for many more years than they had been embattled Europeans.

The parallel trials of Blacks and Jews illuminate the ongoing problem in American society: who is in, who is out, and who gets to decide? The Jewish experience in baseball was different from that of any other minority that sought to elevate its social and economic standing within the majority culture. But so have been the paths of African Americans, Italians, Slavs, Hispanics, and Asians.

Jackie Robinson

Jackie Robinson

Let me suggest that no path through baseball could have been as lonely, as isolated, as utterly without consensus, as that of gay players. They did not see the game as a way out and a way up; acceptance and inclusion, they may well have thought, were the primary goals. 

As our national game, baseball in no small measure defines us as Americans, connecting us with our countrymen across all barriers of generation, class, race, creed, gender, and sexual orientation. Meritocracy is what we are promised as Americans and—despite societal inequities of long standing, and a widening gap in real income between the top and middle and the bottom—that is more nearly, practically true of our nation than anywhere else in the world. And meritocracy is what characterizes our national game more perfectly than in our nation. Can you play?—today that is the only question asked.

With Branch Rickey, Jackie Robinson had forced America to confront the falsehood that baseball could truly be a national pastime while intentionally excluding anyone. America is a nation of nations, and its emblematic game is enriched by reflecting that truth. Today, baseball took another step toward leveling the field for all its citizens.

The Game within the Game

The Pitcher_cropIn 1987 John Holway and I  published a book titled The Pitcher. It was grandiosely and grotesquely subtitled “The Ultimate Compendium of Pitching Lore: Featuring Flakes and Fruitcakes, Wildmen and Control Artists, Strategies, Deliveries, Statistics, and More.” The book thus appeared to offer a rollicking ride through baseball history, a successor of sorts to my own execrable debut book from 1974, A Century of Baseball Lore. But the current ascendancy of pitching, highlighted wonderfully by Tyler Kepner last week in “Now Pitchers Have the Power,” [] prompted me to take another look at this tattered old tome–much of it, gratifyingly to me, not half bad. Below, the introductory essay; remember this is from 1987 except for bracketed remarks.

“Hitting is timing. Pitching is upsetting timing.” —Warren Spahn

Viewed from the bleachers, baseball can seem child’s play, simple, clear, and sweetly pure of intent. Throw and catch, hit and run—these are things we can do (or once could) and, we may flatter ourselves, not so much worse than those fellows down there. The pitcher slings the ball toward the catcher; the batter swings to intercept it; the fielders, coiled, await the outcome. Broad expanses of green and brown frame the players as they spring into motion at the crack of the bat. The brilliantly white ball soars or bounds where it will, the batter takes his base or is denied it—and inning after inning, game after game, year after year, the ceremony is reenacted. Harmony. Grace. Justice.

Baseball is not really so routine of course, or we would not care about it as intensely as we do. Is there a single action in all of sport more difficult than hitting a pitched ball, or one more intricate than pitching to a batter? What can appear more natural yet be more practiced than catching a fly ball? The beauty of baseball, its sustaining satis­faction, is that it is both simple and com­plex, slow  and  sudden, predictable and surprising—a tangle of paradoxes that, like art, like life, reveals itself only by degrees. The astute fan may weigh the merits of a sacrifice bunt or a steal of third base; after much study he may even solve an age-old enigma; yet the essential mystery of base­ball—what goes on between pitcher and bat­ter—remains forever hidden in plain sight.

The eternal conflict in baseball, pitcher vs. striker. Muller & Deacon statuettes from 1868.

The eternal conflict in baseball, pitcher vs. striker. Muller & Deacon statuettes from 1868.

We enter the national pastime’s labyrinth of deception with the opening words of the official rules: “Baseball is a game between two teams of nine players….” While bas­ketball may be a game of five against five, and football, of eleven against eleven, no part of a baseball game pits nine men against nine. One might as well describe the sport as a free-for-all matching two rosters of twenty-five players each. In fact, baseball is a joint enterprise before the game’s first pitch and after its last one, and at precious few points in between.

As a team game, baseball is an aggregate of individual games played for individual goals. It may be seen as the lonely struggle of one man, the batter,  to overcome nine opponents. Or, if we consider the seven men in the field to be of no concern if the batter cannot first hit the ball, the conflict narrows to one against two, hitter against the bat­tery. But even in this game within the game, the catcher plays a passive role: his wisdom may direct the battery attack, but little that he does with the ball can set the larger game in motion. And so baseball’s conflict tele­scopes further, to the primal combat of pitcher and batter, one against one.

Locked in concentration, the antagonists devise their strategies, ready their weapons, and face each other across the odd distance of 60 feet, 6 inches. The batter is armed with a tapered club, ideally of white ash, up to 42 inches long and of unlimited weight (al­though approximately 2 pounds is the cur­rent standard), with a diameter of 2.75 inches at its widest point. The pitcher grips a cow­hide-covered sphere fashioned from layers of tightly wound woolen yarn, rubber, and at the center, composition cork; it weighs 5.25 ounces and is of a diameter slightly greater than that of the bat. He must apply speed, spin, and guile to the ball while di­recting it over (or tantalizingly close to) a plate 17 inches wide, within a vertical strike zone of 2 to 3.5 feet depending upon the height and stance of the batter and the pre­dilection of the umpire.pitcher with ball modeled on lefty grove_a

A good major-league fastball, traveling 90 miles per hour, will traverse the 55 to 56 feet between the pitcher’s point of release and the heart of home plate in 0.42 seconds. Within the first 0.22 seconds after the ball leaves the hand, the batter must pick up the flight of the pitch, identify it by its rotation, predict its location, and decide whether to swing or not. He will need the remaining 0.20 seconds to stride, rotate his hips, and apply torque to the bat through the muscles at the shoulder, elbow, and wrist. To drive the ball into fair territory, he must meet it within an arc of 15 degrees in front of or behind the point at which the bat is perpen­dicular to the path of the ball—a space of about 2 feet, through which the good major-league fastball will pass in 15 thousandths of a second.

Even if he connects squarely, however, he has little control over where his hit will go. Because both the ball and the bat are round at the point of impact, the batter cannot di­rect and manipulate the ball as golfers or tennis players, with their flat-surfaced clubs and racquets, can. Thus, there exists the phenomenon of the hard-hit out, which any batter will tell you is not compensated for by an equal number of scratch hits; and thus, we define the successful hitter as one who fails only seven times in ten. The major-league pitcher is a formidable foe, so for­midable that only four batters in the 20th century—Ted Williams, Mickey Mantle, Rogers Hornsby, and Babe Ruth—have ever been his equal, reaching base as often as they were retired, for even a single sea­son. [I will add here that in the 19th century, John McGraw, Hugh Duffy, Ed Delahanty, Joe Kelley, and Billy Hamilton did it; and in the 21st century  Barry Bonds did it four times, with an other-worldly peak of .609 in 2004.]

Pitcher and batter are constantly looking for some key to obtaining momentary ad­vantage. The batter will alter his stance, his location in the box, his grip; the pitcher will change his speeds, his selection of pitches, his delivery. Through this series of adjust­ments, the game within the game stays in traditional balance, with the average major-league hitter batting between .250 and .275 and the average major-league hurler yield­ing 3.50 to 4.00 runs per nine innings. (These norms are a matter of practice, not a product of physical law. The earned run average for all play from 1876-1986 is 3.66, and the batting average is .268.) [At this moment in 2014, the MLB ERA is 3.79 and the BA is .251.]

The Pitcher, by Douglas Tilden, San Francisco, Golden Gate Park

The Pitcher, by Douglas Tilden, San Francisco, Golden Gate Park

But sometimes the combatants’ adjust­ments are not enough to prevent the long struggle from tilting radically in favor of one or the other, as it did for the hitter in 1930 and for the pitcher in 1968. At such mo­ments, just as the fight seems a mortal mis­match and the public outcry is at its greatest, strings are pulled from above the fray and a deus ex machina—in the form of a designated hitter, a redefined strike zone, a livened or deadened ball—restores equilibrium. The owners and rules makers know that the ob­ject of the year-in, year-out competition be­tween pitcher and batter must be, not final victory, but eternal unresolved conflict if the fans are to maintain interest and profits are to be made. These handicappers will pro­vide the balance between offense and de­fense that they imagine the public demands. If the customer clamors for a bushel of .350 hitters, he may have them. More home runs? As many as he would like.

Providing the hitter with an advantage re­quires tinkering with the game, which can be and has been done. But if you want more low-scoring classics, no problem: Just leave the rules and the ball alone for a generation and the .300 hitter will go the way of the dinosaur. Left unfettered, pitching is an ir­resistible force and will prevail. The prog­ress of baseball from a boys’ game of the 1830s to the national pastime and passion of today is the product of, on the one hand, a steady rise in pitching skill, fueled by ad­vances in physiology, training, and tech­nique; and, on the other hand, the repeated restraints placed upon that rise. These shackles permit hitters, dependent as they are on reaction time and electrical impulses to the brain, the chance to reestablish their former efficiency, thus maintaining the soothing illusion that, of all things, baseball, at least, remains the same.

But baseball has changed, and the steady onslaught of pitching has changed it most.

The Luckiest Man

I have posted two Lou Gehrig pieces this week so haven’t got much more to say. But a picture is worth 1,000 words, and this painting by Graig Kreindler lives up to the adage. I use it with his kind permission, and encourage you to visit his wonderful site:

Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939 Farewell, by GRaig Kreindler.

Lou Gehrig, July 4, 1939 Farewell, by Graig Kreindler.




Lou Gehrig, 75 Years after the Speech

Lou Gehrig, Joe McCarthy

Lou Gehrig, Joe McCarthy

Lou Gehrig … disease … death … sadness. Yes, those are the connections we make automatically now, nearly seventy-five years since he withered away from Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis. We look at the trophy that his Yankee pals presented to him, this trophy that only two months after his last game was too heavy for him to hold during the farewell ceremonies of July 4, 1939. We think of the sympathetic portrayal by Gary Cooper in The Pride of the Yankees and how Lou loved his wife, Eleanor. It’s hard to get past the Hollywood version and the sadness, beyond the black-bordered memorial, to reflect upon the powerful young man who filled out his white warm-up sweater when he played for Columbia University. Let’s remember that fans loved Lou Gehrig not only because he was modest and kind, attributes that even today may be found in abundance; they loved him because he was extraordinary, a baseball player so relentlessly dependable that scribes likened him to a locomotive, “The Iron Horse.”

Today few fans will offer his name when prodded for the greatest players of all time, no matter that his place in the Hall of Fame was secure even before there was a Hall of Fame. Gehrig was not flashy, not even graceful, but by many measures he was the second-best hitter the game had seen up to his time. That the only man whose exploits exceeded his also happened to play for the Yankees was not a tragedy; it suited Lou’s character perfectly. When his friend, baseball writer Fred Lieb, asked him what it felt like to play in the shadow of Babe Ruth, Lou cheerfully replied, “It’s a big shadow; there’s plenty of room for me.”

So permit me to do for Lou what he would never have done for himself: step forward to recite a few of his routinely astonishing feats. Not only did he play every game for fourteen years, amassing the total of 2,130 that will be identified with him always, even long after Cal Ripken surpassed his mark; he broke the previous record for consistency by 823 games, or roughly five seasons. In the period 1926-1938 he averaged 147 RBIs, a figure many power-hitting Hall of Famers never equaled once. In our century, no one drove in more runs per game played and, as writer Bill Curran pointed out, Lou accomplished that while batting behind two of the greatest base-clearing machines of all time–Babe Ruth and Joe DiMaggio. In 1931 Gehrig drove in 184 runs, still the American League record. But consider that in the previous season he drove in 117 runs in his road games alone (he was not a pure pull hitter and benefited little from the short right-field porch at Yankee Stadium). His record of twenty-three grand slams stood until last season.

The Iron Horse and the Big Fella.

The Iron Horse and the Big Fella.

Gehrig was the man who never made any noise; he was in truth what he seemed to be: quiet, sturdy, strong, perfectly sure of his talents yet without an ounce of boast in him. Even when he did something great, he took a backseat. For example, the day he became the first American Leaguer to hit four home runs in a game (and he barely missed a fifth), his feat was scarcely noticed. It was the same day John McGraw announced his retirement. Even after Gehrig’s amazing performance in the Yanks’ four-game sweep of the 1932 World Series–three homers, eight RBIs, a .529 batting average, and a 1.118 slugging mark–Ruth got all the press for his “called shot” (which Gehrig, incidentally, followed with a homer of his own).

His team, of course, was a dynasty, and Gehrig appeared in seven World Series (the pins he received, to which he added his MVP and All-Star jewelry, he made into a bracelet for Eleanor). He was the constant, the only man from the Series contestants of 1926-1928 to play with the World Champs of 1936-39 (although his last game in the 1939 season was on April 30). Even today, after all the stars of all the years since his passing, a look at the top lifetime marks in on-base percentage plus slugging average–OPS, today’s most common measure of batting proficiency–offers this triad: Ruth, Williams, Gehrig.

I wrote this back in 1998 but, as we near the 75th anniversary of Lou Gehrig’s great speech, I thought it worth revisiting.

Gehrig, Williams, and the 1939 All-Star Game

1939 Sleeve Patch

1939 Sleeve Patch

The first All-Star Game (ASG) in the Twin Cities took place in 1965, and this summer you’ll read a lot about Killebrew and Versalles and Battey and Grant and Oliva and Hall. But there was an earlier one with a strong Minneapolis connection and a wealth of colorful background. The 1939 ASG, played at Yankee Stadium, remains notable in large part for two all-time greats who did not play in it: Lou Gehrig and Ted Williams, both with Minnesota stories.

Prefiguring that year’s World Series, there were six Yankees in the starting lineup for the American League (AL), and five Reds among the National League (NL) starting nine. Starting pitchers were New York’s Red Ruffing and Cincinnati’s Paul Derringer. Lonnie Frey drove in the first run of the game and the only run for the Nationals, as the AL won 3–1. Tommy Bridges got the win, Bob Feller—in his first ASG appearance—got the three-inning save, and Bill Lee took the loss. As the game’s details have receded into the mists of time, the backstory has risen to the fore.

Played on July 11, 1939, this was the first time the Midsummer Classic would be held at Yankee Stadium and the second time Gehrig was not the AL’s starting first baseman; Jimmie Foxx had replaced him for 1938 and Hank Greenberg for 1939. Gehrig was in uniform as the Americans’ captain, but he had ended his 2130-game playing streak on May 2. “Maybe a rest will do me some good,” he had said at the time. “Maybe it won’t. Who knows? Who can tell? I’m just hoping.” But he would never play again.

One month before the ASG, on June 12, the Baseball Hall of Fame had opened its doors. On the following day, Gehrig arrived at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, where he would be examined for six days, receive a diagnosis of Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis, and then stay in the region for another three days, fishing with Mayo Clinic doctors who hoped to ease in the painful news. Lou’s somewhat sanitized prognosis was made public in the latter part of June by Dr. Harold C. Habein:

Gehrig deplaning at Rochester, MN

Gehrig deplaning at Rochester, MN

This is to certify that Mr. Lou Gehrig has been under examination at the Mayo Clinic from June 13 to June 19, inclusive. After a careful and complete examination, it was found that he is suffering from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis. This type of illness involves the motor pathways and cells of the central nervous system and, in lay terms, is known as a form of chronic poliomyelitis – infantile paralysis. The nature of this trouble makes it such that Mr. Gehrig will be unable to continue his active participation as a baseball player, inasmuch as it is advisable that he conserve his muscular energy. He could, however, continue in some executive capacity.

On July 4—Yankees owner Jacob Ruppert had rejected a proposal to honor Gehrig at the All-Star Game—the Yankees retired his No. 4, the first such action in baseball. Gehrig called himself “the luckiest man on the face of the Earth.”

In the ASG on the 11th, Joe DiMaggio’s fifth-inning home run provided an insurance run in the AL’s 3-1 victory. As Gehrig had begun to fade, the great centerfielder had taken the baton as the Yankees’ leader. Perhaps surprisingly, the 1939 club—despite losing Gehrig—became arguably the greatest in franchise history, outscoring their AL opponents by 2.7 runs per game (967 to 556) and winning their fourth consecutive World Series, losing only three games over that span.

DiMaggio was in the AL starting lineup for the fourth consecutive year. As a rookie in 1936 Joe had opened in right field as Earl Averill was named to play center. Now, in 1939, Boston had a rookie right fielder (he would play left field every year after that) who was not named to the squad, even as a reserve. His name was Ted Williams.

 Williams with Minneapolis, 1938

Williams with Minneapolis, 1938

In 1938, his one year with Minneapolis, Williams won the Triple Crown with a batting average of .366, 43 home runs, and 142 RBIs. But his antics in the outfield and on the basepaths drove manager Donie Bush to despair. Maybe the Kid was going to be the game’s next great star, but the comparisons offered by newsmen around the Triple-A circuit were not to Babe Ruth but to Babe Herman—or to Ring Lardner’s “Elmer the Great.” It is hard to fathom today, but as he rose to the majors Ted was universally regarded as a screwball.

Joe McCarthy, the AL squad’s manager, decided to teach the brash kid a lesson. He selected Doc Cramer, the Red Sox center fielder, to start the game in right field and passed Williams over entirely. Over the course of the 1939 campaign Cramer would  go on to hit .311 with zero home runs and 56 RBIs, with an On Base Plus Slugging (OPS) of 0.734. Williams would hit .327 with 31 home runs and 145 RBIs, with an OPS of 1.045.

After the 1939 season Williams went to Minnesota rather than return to his hometown of San Diego, where his parents had just separated and his brother Danny was running with a bad crowd. “Home was never a happy place for me,” Ted said, “and I had met a girl in Minnesota.” The girl was Doris Soule, whom he would later marry. The next year, the Kid would incur the antagonism of Boston writer Harold Kaese, who wrote, “Well, what do you expect from a guy who won’t even go to see his mother in the off season?” Ted never forgave him, nor any of the “knights of the keyboard,” and the long battle between the Kid and the press was joined.

One last Minneapolis note: two of the game’s five greatest players, in most anyone’s estimation, wore Millers uniforms in 1938 and 1951. One was Ted Williams. I’ll bet you can name the other (answer below).

Willie Mays_reverse








Picture Portfolio No. 6: Christy Mathewson

Frank Merriwell, the “All-American Boy” of the dime novels, was not modeled on Christy Mathewson, although many believe this is the case (Merriwell was a national sensation in 1896, when Matty was still in high school). On the contrary, the future star twirler of the New York Giants, he of the disdainful glance at the opposing batsman before tossing up his inscrutable fadeaway, might well have modeled himself on Merriwell.

No matter–chicken or egg, Matty was the real-life embodiment of all the dime-novel improbabilities. He had indefatigable verve, nerve, pluck … even, for a while, luck. An early nickname for him was “Big Six,” conferring upon him the combination of power and reliability of New York’s most famous fire engine, the Americus No. 6, a double-deck steamer that was a true New York Giant, tipping the scale at over two tons. (Forget that stuff you often read about Matty being named “Big Six” on account of his six-foot height.) In an era when most ballplayers were rough-and-tumble characters from the wrong side of the tracks who believed that fists were the best way to settle any dispute, Mathewson stood out as “the Christian Gentleman.” Tall, blond, aristocratic in looks and bearing, and college-educated, he earned a reputation for fairness and honesty that made him one of the game’s first role models for boys of whom middle-class parents could approve. This was no King Kelly or Rube Waddell, no flouter of convention and target of the law, no saloon crawler or base-path brawler.

He was “no goody-goody,” his wife Jane hastened to add whenever someone would expound upon his virtues, and that was probably true, but his press clippings declared him a paragon of virtue. He was known to cuss a bit, liked to gamble mostly on  checkers, at which he was a whiz, and poker, at which he was not, and there are a few recorded instances of his being involved in a scuffle. Some folks found him standoffish, even aloof, and accused him of having “a swelled head.” But his teammates, his manager, and even those most skeptical of creatures, the writers who traveled with the team, simply adored “the Christian Gentleman.” Like Kelly and Waddell, who had courted death through drink, Matty died not long after his playing days were over, though in his case from the lingering effects of poison gas inhaled during a wartime training exercise.

Mathewson began his professional career with Taunton of the New England League, in the summer after his sophomore year at Bucknell College, where he drew All-America attention as a fullback and drop kicker. During the following season, 1900, he went 20-2 for Norfolk in the Virginia League and in midseason was purchased conditionally by the Giants, who were unimpressed by his pitching and tried to convert him to first base. After the season, they returned him to Norfolk, whence he was drafted by the Cincinnati Reds. (Isn’t it amazing how a talent of this magnitude can escape the gaze of professional baseball people? It gives hope to every struggling rookie at every level of play.)

Fortunately for the Giants, Cincinnati proved to be no smarter than they had been. The Reds allowed themselves to be hoodwinked into an exchange of worn-out superstar Amos Rusie, whose career total of 246 major-league wins were all behind him, for Mathewson, whose 373 wins were all ahead.

These photographs recall Mathewson and his peculiar blend of piety and perspicacity. Action photos of him were bound into a flip book in 1907 by the Winston Film Company (“See Christy Mathewson Pitch!”) and issued commercially. The ingenious Matty used them to augment his own pitches to prospective clients for his off-season insurance business. Now that’s a calling card!

He was never without his Bible and his checkers. When traveling with the team, he would typically go to the local YMCA to play checkers in the evening, sometimes against a gaggle of opponents, whom he would play simultaneously, moving around the room from board to board. He was a Christian in upbringing and demeanor, but unlike Branch Rickey and other devout youths who had made promises to their mothers before embarking upon careers in professional baseball, he was not above playing exhibition baseball games on Sundays (baseball was not permitted on the Sabbath in New York until 1919). He was one of the guys, and he liked his extra money just as the other Giants did.

As a pitcher he was at his best when the going was tough; his three shutouts in the 1905 World Series have never been equaled. His ghosted autobiography, Pitching in a Pinch, explained how he would take it easy unless the situation was tight, i.e., “the pinch.” (Of course, that strategy was fine for the deadball era when weak batters were unlikely to drive the ball for an extra-base hit; today the six-inning “quality start” followed by two or three relievers is the preferred modus operandi.)

Interestingly, the great Mathewson took some of the toughest losses in history. In 1908 he would have been the winning pitcher on September 23, when Fred Merkle failed to touch second and turned a Giant victory into a tie game. When that tie forced a one-game playoff for the pennant, he lost to “Three-Finger” Brown. In the 1912 World Series he lost the final game in the last of the tenth inning when Fred Snodgrass muffed a fly ball and Merkle and the catcher, Chief Meyers, couldn’t agree on who should catch Tris Speaker’s foul pop.

The first of his ghostwritten books was Won in the Ninth. Ring Lardner declared that it ruined the literary tastes of an entire generation, but its readers certainly loved baseball all the more for sharing Mathewson’s thrilling adventures and imagining themselves in his shoes. This 1910 book was the first of a series to be known as the “Matty books”; later exemplars of Matty’s stilted prose are First Base Faulkner, Second Base Sloan, Catcher Craig, and Pitcher Pollock. Subtlety was lost on boys avid for detail and for echoes of the big leagues, so the ballplayers in Won in the Ninth included such barely camouflaged characters as awkward-looking shortstop Hans Hagner, slick-fielding double-play specialist Johnny Everson, and nimble first sacker Hal Case. Newspaperman John Wheeler, who covered the Giants on a daily basis, was Matty’s ghost for the series.

Almost Perfect

Clayton Kershaw

Clayton Kershaw

An old friend who happens to be a Dodger fan–US District Judge Andrew Guilford–wrote to me this afternoon about last night’s no-hitter by L.A.’s Clayton Kershaw. “I’ve always been troubled when a pitcher loses a perfect game through an error by his teammate,” he wrote. “Decades ago, I checked it out, and I may be wrong, but I think it happens infrequently. It happened last night to Kershaw, who belongs with Koufax in the rarefied conversation of Dodger perfect games, yet will not be there through no fault of his own. We need a catchy phrase for a ‘no hit, no walk, no HBP, no E-1’ game and I have an idea. In a game now being flooded with all kinds of new sabermetric words we need to introduce this phrase: ‘A PITCHER’S perfect game.’

“I wonder,” Andy continued, “if anyone else has flown the flag I’m now flying (or tilted at this windmill), and whether there is any chance of adding a ‘pitcher’s perfect game’ to WAR, WHIP, OPS, DICE, DIPS, RISP, PECOTA, etc. Heck, I might even settle for ‘PPG’!”

The Pitcher, 1987

The Pitcher, 1987

This subject had interested me way back in 1987 when John Holway and I collaborated on a long out of print book called The Pitcher. Not even I possess a copy, but recalling that Dick Bosman lost a perfect game by committing an error HIMSELF (the E-1 which my friend would have exempted from his proposed PPG), I was able to wind my thoughts back to an article in SABR’s Baseball Research Journal of 1991, by William Ruiz, “Near-Perfect Games.” He identified five no-hitters in which the only man to reach base did so on an error.

July 1, 1920: Walter Johnson
Only baserunner came on Bucky Harris’ error leading off the seventh.

September 3, 1947: Bill McCahan
Only baserunner came on Ferris Fain’s error with one out in the second. After fielding a grounder, Fain tossed wildly to McCahan, who was covering first on the play.

July 19, 1974: Dick Bosman
Bosman’s own error in the fourth allowed Oakland’s only baserunner. Attempting a comeback after a sore-armed 3–13 record, Cleveland’s Bosman threw wildly to first after Sal Bando hit a chopper back to the box.

June 27, 1980: Jerry Reuss
Only baserunner came on Bill Russell’s throwing error with two outs in the first frame. Russell’s throw from deep in the hole on another play smothered a possible hit.

August 15, 1990: Terry Mulholland
Only baserunner came on third baseman Charlie Hayes’s error leading off the seventh. Hayes would later make a spectacular catch to end the game. Mulholland faced the minimum 27 batters.

Author Ruiz missed this earlier no-hitter in which the only two baserunners had reached on errors:

June 13, 1905: Christy Mathewson
Only baserunners came on errors by Bill Dahlen and Billy Gilbert. Three Finger Brown allowed only two hits through eight scoreless innings.

Harvey Haddix, 1961 Topps card

Harvey Haddix, 1961 Topps card

No longer counted as a no-hitter, Harvey Haddix’s perfect game of May 26, 1959 was broken up by third baseman Don Hoak’s error in the thirteenth (!) inning. Felix Mantilla advanced to second base on Eddie Mathews’ sacrifice. Then followed an intentional walk to Hank Aaron, and a ball hit over the fence by Joe Adcock that at first seemed a three-run homer. But Aaron slowed after passing second base and seeing the ball fly out into the night; Adcock passed him and was ruled out after being credited with a double. Final score, 1–0.

Pedro Martinez had a perfect game through nine innings on June 3, 1995 but like Haddix lost both his perfect game and his no-hitter in an extra frame, though he did win the game.

Have there been others to lose perfect games on errors before Kershaw? Remember, Ruiz’s article was published in 1991. Yes indeed, and this one was memorable because its mound artist was 2–8 on the season with a 5.30 ERA and had been demoted to the bullpen.

July 10, 2009: Jonathan Sánchez
Only baserunner came on Juan Uribe’s error with one out in the eighth.

And of course, there is last night:
June 18, 2014: Clay Kershaw
The Rockies’ only baserunner came on a Hanley Ramirez throwing error in the seventh. Kershaw became the first to throw a no-hitter with 15 strikeouts and no walks.

Ten men lost perfection by allowing a hit to the 27th batter–a pinch hitter prior to the introduction of the designated hitter in the American League in 1973 (thanks to Stew Thornley for help with the list):

August 5,1932: Tommy Bridges

June 27, 1958: Billy Pierce

April 15, 1983: Milt Wilcox

May 2, 1988: Ron Robinson

August 4, 1989: Dave Stieb

April 20, 1990: Brian Holman

September 2, 2001: Mike Mussina

June 2, 2010: Armando Galarraga

April 2, 2013: Yu Darvish

September 6, 2013: Yusmeiro Petit

One man lost a perfect game when the final batter, the opposing pitcher, was permitted to bat:

July 4, 1908: Hooks Wiltse (hit the Phils’ George McQuillan with a two-strike pitch)

Another man lost a perfect game by walking the final batter, pinch hitter Larry Stahl:

Lefty Hooks Wiltse at right, in 1906

Lefty Hooks Wiltse at right, in 1906

September 2, 1972: Milt Pappas (with a 1–2 count, umpire Bruce Froemming called the next three pitches balls—two of them were on the corners—to deny immortality to Milt)

Perfect games are quirky; ask Armando Gallaraga. As they are figured now they are defensive accomplishments of the entire team—although most importantly the pitcher. Pitcher Perfect Games like Kershaw’s—PPGs, as my friend Andy has labeled them— are certainly rare. Do they merit their own separate category?

A Death in the Family

gwynn-83When I learned about Tony Gwynn’s death this morning, from Barry Bloom via Facebook, I was strangely shaken. I knew Tony by his accomplishments, as millions of fans did, but I did not know him personally. We may have been in the same hotel lobby on occasion but I can’t say that we ever exchanged a word.

“Hail and farewell, Tony Gwynn,” I tweeted after quickly rejecting “ave atque vale,” which is the same thing but a bit showy. As a flood of comments followed mine, I found myself increasingly morose. Why? Tony Gwynn was not kin, even if it is universally agreed that he was a truly good guy of admirable character.

Slowly the answer came to me. I have been watching baseball long enough that I can recall the whole of Tony’s ball days. He was a part of my extended family, as he and I and my sons grew up in baseball and grew older, all of us apart yet together. We recall Tony not as one of the boys of summer in their ruin, as Dylan Thomas had it, but as a young friend of our summers together. We spent time with him, marked time with him, and today stopped time with him.

More than distant relatives, he and his  playmates pulled up a chair at the table when the family gathered for meals. We talked about them when we weren’t watching them. As the best hitter in the National League year after year, Tony often sat at the head of the table.

Now the scrapbook is closed. We will add no new snapshots of him to our family album, but we still have plenty at hand—flip to any page. I have my family and you have yours, but we share a family, all of us who care deeply about the game. We are the family of baseball.

Reflecting upon the complete last line of Catullus’s elegy for his brother, it fits the way I am feeling now, and I’m guessing it fits you too.

“And forever, brother, hail and farewell” (atque in perpetuum frater ave atque vale).


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